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Volume 27, Issue 3

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Prevent a Document Catastrophe with Proactive Disaster Recovery Planning

documentIn an instant, an earthquake, fire, flood, or hurricane can erase years of business operations. In the wake of recent natural disasters, most companies have thought about how they would manage if caught in their own catastrophic predicament; some have even taken steps to prepare. But one disaster recovery priority often overlooked is how quickly critical digital content would need to be restored in the face of a crisis.

Digital and hard copy intellectual property like e-mail, Web pages, account files, and HR documentation are the lifeblood of today’s enterprises. It is expensive and unrealistic to believe that an organization needs all of its documents and data restored minutes after a disaster. But businesses should take inventory of the information that is critical to run the business, prioritize what data needs to be restored as soon as possible, and what can wait for backups to be pulled.

Since most businesses don’t have the knowledge internally to plan for or prepare for a disaster, many turn to an experienced partner that can deploy innovative solutions based on an understanding of their specific risks and requirements. These disaster recovery partnerships help companies:

  • Reduce the costs associated with managing multiple vendor contracts and improve the capture, preservation, and sharing of critical information.
  • Enhance enterprise accountability and transparency through improved access to and preservation of content.

Being proactive about disaster recovery has benefits beyond basic business restoration during a disaster. By making document and business processes more effective and efficient for a disaster recovery plan, organizations like Tulane University reduce costs, improve productivity, and increase security and compliance.

Back to Business in the Aftermath

document2Tulane University is one organization which recognizes the importance of digitizing and archiving content to protect against a serious interruption. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, about two-thirds of Tulane University’s main campus flooded. Aside from disruption to academic coursework and administration, the University experienced significant infrastructure damage. As one of the largest private employers in Louisiana, Tulane faced the challenge of getting its staff and facilities fully operational and resuming its momentum as an academic leader. The University’s Document Services Center was forced to entirely rebuild its operation, while being tasked with doing more with less to spur the recovery effort and future growth.

Hurricane Katrina clearly outlined the business impact for Tulane. In 2008 the University began extending efforts to build a continuity program and optimize its document management and print technology and services to be prepared for the next disaster. The solution goals were simple – speed processes to improve service, control costs, identify continual improvements. A content management platform was rolled out to three departments in a phased approach, resulting in wide acceptance of the changes, significant productivity gains, and cost savings more than $80,000 to date.

Identifying Mission-Critical Data

Similar to Tulane’s disaster recovery approach, companies need to look beyond IT systems and consider business processes and support functions as part of the plan. An assessment of intellectual property can help determine what is essential to keep the company running. This formal review of content provides:

  • Risk analysis: evaluates how different types of events or disasters will affect business operations.
  • Business impact analysis (BIA): identifies the functions and processes that are essential for day-to-day operation by analyzing the impact of losing those critical functions and processes –finances, productivity, etc. – while determining how quickly they must be restored to limit the business impact. During this analysis, a company assigns a Recovery Time Objective (RTO), the amount of time to recover a system from the moment of disaster to functional state and a Recovery Point Objective (RPO), the point in time when the information will be restored.
  • Business availability plan: outlines decisions and actions that should be performed to prevent or respond to a situation that disrupts normal business processes. Assigning a level of recovery importance to documents — ranging from immediate recovery to waiting for a few days — is a proactive way of prioritizing should disaster strike:
    • Traditional recovery is a typical tape back-up solution that is shipped to an offsite recovery facility.
    • Advanced recovery is faster than traditional recovery and can include local disk mirroring that allows multiple backups to be executed daily and database shadowing that applies database logs to a remote copy of a standby database.
    • High availability is an immediate response to the disaster, and it is unlikely anyone will notice the data was affected.
  • Continuity program: plans to develop and sustain business availability such as establishing a formal program office, complete with standards and governance policies and enterprise-wide business continuity plans.

Putting it into Practice

Companies like The Members Group, of Des Moines, aren’t waiting until they are brought to a halt by a catastrophic event. As a financial services organization, The Members Group needs to maintain a maximum level of responsiveness if the business experiences an unexpected interruption of normal operations. The company created a flexible, cost effective disaster recovery solution that completely integrated disaster recovery across all of its critical business systems, along with integrated WAN network failover by relying on tape backup for servers and real time replication of its Windows environments. The solution was tested and operational in less than four hours, which ultimately met the RTO and RPOs outlined in the analysis phase.

David Smith is vice president and general manager for Xerox DocuShare enterprise content management (ECM) software. He has more than 20 years of experience in content and document management, imaging, multifunctional hardware, and other technology markets. He holds a master’s degree in business administration from University of California at Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree from Kansas State. Scott M. Laman, director of service continuity for ACS, A Xerox Company, has been involved with disaster recovery/business continuity program management for more than 20 years. Laman is currently responsible for managing the company’s enterprise disaster recovery program that supports data centers throughout Europe and North America. He regularly speaks with clients and outside organizations about advanced recovery and high availability solutions. Laman is a Certified Business Continuity Professional (CBCP) and a member of the North Texas Chapter of Association Contingency Planners.

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